He hears us all.
My mother addresses Him by name, weeping into her pillow at night when she thinks I am asleep and will not hear her.
Alice calls Him Jehovah because He answers to that, too.
Debbie swears a lot more than He probably appreciates.
Nina and B.J. ask the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus because they are who Nina and B.J. were taught to believe in.
I was taught to believe in Him, so I ask God directly. But I have more faith that my fresh-plucked incisor—pressed between my Little Mermaid sheets and pillow—will be replaced with a quarter by morning. I believe God is much busier than the Tooth Fairy, that my request is at the back of a very long line. But I clasp my hands together the way Sister Grace Ann taught me to and recite the Lord’s Prayer, then the Hail Mary, the only prayers I know. I do not know how one begins when one address God. When I finish I whisper, “Please don’t make Daddy marry Sharon,” make the sign of the cross, and wait for a response.
He hears us all, the high concentration of prayers and pleas radiating from Chicagoland, up and up and up, more frequently as 1992 a.d. pushes on. He hears us. He listens.
He plans quickly.
He watches for the moment when he can make it look like an accident. Spiteful, smiting, Old Testament God is an old role he hasn’t had great opportunity to play recently. But God has been working on Sharon for years, and so it’s not so hard. In fact, it’s a little thrilling for Him.
He sees Sharon in her brand new ’92 Hyundai, a silver box-shaped bullet tearing through the perfect early-summer air that’s settled on the Chicago side streets. She’s rigid and angry at the wheel, tearing ass through the South Side Bungalow Belt to the West Loop.
Distracted by the mid-afternoon sun gleaming off her cubic zirconium engagement ring, Sharon is all by herself on the road for a good stretch. God knew it would be this way.
“This will look like an accident,” He says to himself, nodding.
Somewhere down a side street not too far away a man leaving his office to run a mid-day business errand is compelled to rush.
Satan has been on the corner since morning and has gone largely unnoticed. He sits on the curb, hooves planted firmly against the cracked asphalt, legs fallen to either side of his middle. He twirls his tail lazily while checking his watch. He is nothing if not impatient, believe it or not.
The businessman drives a Buick. A large, old, brown Buick that looks more tank than sedan. He drives more quickly than usual, more erratically than usual, not quite sure what’s come over him but incapable of slowing down.
God balances the moments carefully. One eye watches Sharon as she jams another cigarette into her mouth immediately after throwing the butt of the first one out the window. “Littering” God sighs. His other eye follows the man in the Buick, willing him. “He is not such a good man,” God thinks. “Not a terribly good driver, either. This will be no surprise.”
Both Sharon and the man in the Buick near their respective sides of the fated intersection. With one eye, God sees Sharon again distracted by her engagement ring. “I knew she would be,” He boasts. Like the boxy Hyundai, the ring is new and is supposed to mean the start of something beautiful. Her errand today is supposed to mean the start of something beautiful, too—she rushes to retrieve her fiancé from work; they need to get their marriage license. But her thoughts aren’t with her fiancé or the wedding; they’re with the perceived cost of the fake ring—which her fiancé would insist he did not know was fake—and the new car—for which she has no measure, having never had a brand-new car before, and if she had understood how cheap it had actually been, she would’ve been insulted by it.
On another afternoon, just like this one but colder, a few months previous, she had told her boyfriend that they would be getting married. He didn’t know any better and didn’t argue.
Sharon sees her light turn green and guns the Hyundai toward the intersection. The man sees the red light ahead of him, thinks, What’re the chances? I’ve been running signs and lights since I left the office and I’ve been fine. Someone up there must be looking out for m. He guns it, like he is supposed to, like God knew he would, like Satan knew he would, like Sharon isn’t expecting.
For all involved, the moment of impact seems to last for hours.
Every movement of man and machine slows, every noise echoes and bounces in the spaces between warehouses and lonely streets.
God waits patiently for the moment to finish itself. He is pleased with himself. One might even hazard to say “proud,” though that’s a sin.
Satan stays on the curb.
The man in the Buick, surrounded by American-made steel, is fine as the Hyundai collides with the passenger side of his car. Even before the Hyundai crumples against the passenger side of his car he thinks, Thank God for full coverage.
Sharon, though, protected only by cheap Japanese plastic and fiberglass, is thrown around the inside of the Hyundai the way a shaken baby’s brain sloshes against the skull meant to protect it. Her skull connects with the windshield.
By all that is holy and logical Sharon should explode head first through that glass, sail over the hood of that Heaven-sent Buick, and collide with the sun-warmed pavement. God knows this. He watches. Waits. “This will look like an accident,” He says again.
Instead, God’s divine intervention comes to a thud of a halt, and if God himself hadn’t been behind the accident, it could’ve been mistaken for a miracle.
Satan stops looking at his watch. It’s time.
He is on the Hyundai’s hood.
God is not pleased.
Satan’s thick, ropy arm strains against and absorbs the force of Sharon’s skull against the windshield, his hooves carving deep grooves into the hood.
God looks away, chides himself, mumbles about practicing what one preaches and what’s good for the goose and what an eye-for-an-eye turns the world into.
Satan holds his hand against the broken windshield until the Hyundai finishes accordion-ing against the Buick, until Sharon slumps back down the steering wheel into her seat, until he can feel the eyes of the Buick’s driver—wide and hot and, the man assumes, delirious—staring at the back of him, tracing the sways of his tail.
This triumph was his largest yet; Sharon lived to see another day.
Particularly, her wedding day, four short days later, when she would become my step mother.
We all lick our wounds.
My mother agrees to a three-some with her best friend and the woman’s boyfriend, drowns herself in sweating bodies and tear-soaked kisses the night before the wedding while I lie awake a few blocks away in my father’s apartment. My mother’s friend’s boyfriend pushes my empty bed next to my mom’s for the extra room, and my mother cries too much to notice my Little Mermaid sheets.
Alice and Debbie resolve to take matters into their own hands. They approach my father minutes before the outdoor ceremony begins, pulling him to the other side of the gazebo where no one will see them. “There’s still time,” they say. “You don’t have to do this,” they say. “You’re a good man,” they say. Alice cries and dabs her handkerchief against her running mascara. Debbie is stone-faced hands on hips. My father laughs and believes they are joking. Years later, he will realize they weren’t, and the two women will forgive him for not listening and heap extra love upon us.
Nina and B.J. know only that they do not like Sharon because now, when she and their uncle, my father, come over to their house, their uncle does not play with them or even talk to them.
Before the accident, at the ceremony rehearsal, I’d been struck with stage-fright over being the first carnation-pink cloud of taffeta in line. Sharon’d had no patience for this and stomped off to sit in the shade of the gazebo where their vows would later be exchanged. Debbie knelt next to me, stroked my shoulder, whispered, “If you don’t throw the flowers, they can’t get married. Your job is very special. A special job for a special little girl.”
Flower petals strewn on the ground do not a marriage make. I know this now. But I tried. I believed that this had as good a chance to work as my nighttime prayers.
The wedding video captured my earnest effort:
There I am, the front of the line, knuckles white on the handle of my basket of flowers, eyes squinted in deep concentration, my tiny mouth moving as I recite the only two prayers I know quietly to myself. Sharon hisses, “Throw your goddamn flowers” through her pain and clenched teeth around the five taffeta-wrapped girls between us. You can hear it clear as a bell when you watch the tape.
I do not know if He heard any of us that day.
I do know that we didn’t forgive Him, and that try as He might over the coming years He was never able to make it up to us until, after dozens of failed attempts on Sharon, He finally delivered him from evil and took my father from this earth.
The picture of the wedding party contains an interloper, and I do not mean my cousin B.J., who was not in the wedding party but was included in the picture anyway. I mean B.J.’s boutonniere. Hastily affixed to the lapel of his miniature rented tuxedo by our grandmother in a effort to make him match the rest of us, so large it rivals the size of his seven-year-old head, the blood-red of it winks out of the picture in contrast to the pinks and whites and grays of the rest of us.
And we all know who is winking.
Read more about Nicolette here.
Read more about Charlie here.